I’ll confess going into this that I know next to nothing about Fiji – except that it’s warm, beautiful, and for such a tiny country in the South Pacific it sure punches well above its weight in rugby.
So, ahead of my holiday to Fiji at the end of the month, I decided to delve a bit deeper into this proud island nation and uncover 10 facts about Fiji that I didn’t know before. How many of these factoids did you already know?
1. Fiji isn’t only one island; it’s an archipelago of more than 330 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited by people.
2. Fiji’s total land area is about 18,300 square kilometres, making it the 156th largest country in the world in terms of size – larger than Kuwait and Jamaica, and smaller than Israel and El Salvador.
3. In terms of population, The World Factbook ranks Fiji as the 162nd most populous country in the world with just over 900,000 residents – that’s more than Luxembourg and Bhutan, less than Estonia, Swaziland, and Cyprus.
4. More than 80% of the population of Fiji lives on its two major islands – Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.
5. People have inhabited Fiji since the second millennium BC. For reference, that period roughly marks the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age, a time when chariots were still in use, the legendary Achilles was said to walk the earth, and “Ancient Egypt” was just “present day Egypt”.
6. Thousands of years later, Europeans visited Fiji for the first time from the 17th century, with the British even going so far as to subjugate the islands as a colony in 1874.
7. The Colony of Fiji gained independence as a Commonwealth realm in 1970, before finally becoming a republic in 1987.
8. These days, sugar exports and tourism are the country’s biggest sources of foreign income. I don’t blog about the former, so let’s take a closer look at the latter: according to Tourism Fiji, visitor numbers hit a record high 754,835 last year.
9. Of those tourists, the bulk came from Australia (367,273 in 2015) and New Zealand (138,537), followed by the United States of America (67,831), other Pacific islands (48,570) and China (40,174).
10. Finally, lucky for me Fiji is no longer known as the “Cannibal Isles” as it was by European sailors more than 100 years ago.
Allegedly the practice of eating human flesh began as a way to circumvent starvation on very long journey at sea, and it ended in 1867 with the death of Reverend Thomas Baker, the last-known victim of cannibalism in Fiji. He was sentenced to death for touching the head of a village chief.
So if you take just one lesson away with you now, let it be that one. Don’t touch a Fijian’s head; although they’ll no longer eat you for lunch, they may find it super disrespectful.